Friday, November 15, 2013

Fandom Classics Part 20: Bureaucracy is Magic

To read the story, click the image or follow this link

AKA: the post where Chris experiments with a dozen different ways to spell "bureaucracy" while writing the review, only for spellcheck to deliver the red squiggly line of opprobrium after each and every attempt.  Sure, I could just let the machine fix it for me (or, you know, refer back to the title of the fic), but that would be admitting defeat!  No, I'll keep moving vowels around until I stumble upon the correct spelling by accident, thank you very much.  Review-y goodness below the break, as always.

Impressions before reading:  This is something like the fourth or fifth Pen Stroke story I've reviewed, and there have been a number of commonalities (good and bad) among the stories of his I've read.  So, I'm expecting something with a fair bit of redundant phrasing, an accessible and widely engaging premise, faithful dialogue, and shallow but accurate characterizations right off the bat--and for me, at least, that works out to a net positive expectation.  Couple that with my love of political humor, and I'm hoping for good things from this one.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  When the mayor of Ponyville takes an unexpected vacation, each of the main six has a chance to step into her horseshoes--whereupon they discover that being mayor isn't as easy as they think.

Thoughts after reading:  Not to toot my own predictive horn, but I got pretty much what I was expecting out of this one.  The redundant phrasing was somewhat less prevalent than in some of the author's previously-reviewed stories (though still present, mostly in the form of over-explained actions), and the rest of my predictions were met to a tee.

Luckily, there's plenty of other stuff to talk about; otherwise, this would be a really short review.  To begin with, there's the predictability of this story: it's incredibly predictable.  This is a classic example of a "variations on a theme with each of the main six" story, one where it's not hard to guess the arc of the entire story from the setup alone.  Now, there's nothing wrong with that, so long as the story is engaging enough on its other merits (humor, in this case) that the lack of twists and turns doesn't leave the reader bored.  And generally speaking, Bureaucracy is Magic manages to be entertaining despite its predictability.  Yes, Twilight's attempt to reform the red tape-filled world of mayordom (Mayorality?  Mayorness?) is as easy to see coming as it is doomed, but that doesn't make the ensuing nervous breakdown any less entertaining.  The humor is low-key, but it's fairly consistent.

What was sometimes a barrier to entertainment was the sense of medium displacement which is present in this fic.  The story is structured much like an episode of the show (right down to the delivered-via-mallet-to-the-head moral at the end), and this extends to the comedy.  There are a lot of jokes here that would work much better in a visual medium than they do in text.  However, I'll give Pen Stroke credit for rendering these jokes clearly and for rarely mangling the punchline (or at least, the comedy) in his presentation.

The story doesn't bother with more than a perfunctory setup, which is absolutely the right decision.  This kind of piece is about the setpieces and scenes, and moving quickly to "the meat" not only matches the previously mentioned show-toniness, it also keeps the story from bogging down, which is absolutely crucial for predictable stories.  The ending, however, I was less impressed with.  While it's very appropriate to the story, with its heavy-handed moral and speechifying, it's a very noticeable dull patch in an otherwise light comic story.  Unfortunately, being placed at the end of the fic only makes this dullness more noticeable

Star Rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?).

I would place this fic in the "enjoyable for what it is" category.  That doesn't exactly sound like a compliment, I realize, but I mean it in a positive way: Bureaucracy is Magic is funny, consistent, and well-conceived.  For all that, though, it's not without its flaws, and I couldn't rightly call it "exceptional" in any way.

Recommendation:  This is a good fic for fans of SoL/comedy in general, and for those who like show-style fanfics in particular.  It won't hold much appeal to anyone hoping for anything unexpected from their reading material, though.

Next time:  This Nearly was Mine, by BillyColt


  1. Predictions for "TNWM": annoying TaviScratch clichés, little character development, empty dialogue, decent technical skill, did the research, plot point out of nowhere, okay ending, 3/5

    1. I'll be interested to see TNWM. I only read the first two chapters, and I was a very inexperienced reviewer at the time. I couldn't find much to say about it, but for what I did find, BillyColt was completely dismissive of every bit of it. I don't know. If an author comes back with a reasoned argument, that's one thing, but if he just waves you off with a "whatever," it always rubs me the wrong way and makes me wonder what else he's willing to skimp on.

      I agree with your listed items, except that I don't think a bunch of meh adds up to 3 stars. Chris seems to like stories pretty well still that rate that high.

  2. I remember not being able to read it in one sitting, due to the fact that it was acting as a sleep aid as many of Pen's stories are wont to do. It's fine on a mechanical level, if far from exemplarary (indeed, the very first paragraph features the compound word "counterbalance" being split by an errant space, a problem not picked up any of the story's six[!] pre-readers) although one doesn't need to look too far to find something worth griping about when it comes to style choices. Repetition runs rampant, as Chris noted, and Pen has a nasty habit of putting commas where they 'ought to not be when it comes to conjunctions ("She was energetic as usual, and bounded right up to Ivory Scroll’s desk." being a case in point).

    The humour, to the best of my recollection, remained firmly in the "safe" zone where it never dared to tread beyond what the show would do during a particularly reserved episode. While low-key jokes can work when in a visual medium, here they never succeed in eliciting more than a bemused smirk. I could watch a six-second Vine clip and come out with a bigger smile than the collective entirety of every upturned mouth corner spending the hour or so it takes to read this story.

    Not that a story failing to make me laugh is an inherently bad thing, but when it comes to self-stylized comedy in an otherwise paint-by-the-numbers work, the jokes better make my sides feel like they're attempting trinary division from the rest of my body. This, unfortunately, is not the case, and I'm instead left to reflect on why I spent a not-insignificant portion of my day reading something that was ho-hum from the very first scene and doggedly remained so until the closing credits.

    In the end, faithful characterization does not trump interesting characterization, nor does a show-like plot measure up to an engaging story. The story never excites me as a reader on any level, from technical skill to prose ability, remaining firmly in place as "That story you could do worse than but would be better ignored in lieu of personal hygiene or a re-run of your favourite sitcom."

    1. "Safe" is definitely an operative word for the humor, along with "predictable." Personally, I don't consider either death knells when it comes to humor, but this is definitely not a story that will appeal to anyone hoping for something--anything--that pushes the envelope in any way.

  3. Oh yeah, I meant to mention that I quite liked this story myself, despite it's predictability. It's like my second-favorite of Pen Stroke's stories.

    Word of that Day: Opprobrium.